In September about 20 executives, mostly from Scandinavia, hopped on a plane for a trip designed to shatter their notions of how to do business. The group, comprised of the first batch of students at a new Danish school called 180°academy, jetted off to South Africa. There they worked with a group called the Business Place to help would-be entrepreneurs realize such dreams as opening a hair salon or starting a toy business, though they had no relevant experience or skills.
The program isn’t anything like business school, where students focus largely on areas of their expertise. And that’s the point. Conventional business education leads executives to build on their strengths—improving profit margins, boosting efficiency, and benchmarking the best practices of rivals. This school aims to teach midcareer executives something many think is unteachable: how to be innovative. “We’ve got to break them from what they know best,” says Anne Kirah, the academy’s kinetic, gum-chewing, American dean. “When you’re only focused on your competition and what you know best, you don’t innovate.”